To flesh out Friday’s entry: Turns out that I’m going to Nigeria on Friday. I’ll be gone for 10 days, writing a variety of Pope-related stories.
Since this all has come together pretty quickly, I’ve got a lot of learning to do on Nigeria (and the African Catholic church). On Friday night, I went to Borders to pick up a copy of Lonely Planet guide to Nigeria. Turns out there is no Lonely Planet Nigeria. Strange, I thought. Nigeria is the largest country in Africa and certainly one of the most important.
Actually, I looked around and there were no guidebooks for Nigeria. I picked up the Lonely Planet West Africa guide, which had a short chapter on Nigeria. I can sum up its advice to travelers wishing to visit Nigeria in one word: “Don’t.”
It paints a horrific picture of armed robberies, murders, assaults, random urban violence, and perhaps the worst city in the world, Lagos. (Although, by this ratings system, it’s only the fourth-worst out of 130 cities studied.) Quoth the Rough Guide to West Africa: “While it would definitely be misleading to downplay its problems, Lagos is no more of a hell hole than any other gigantic, seething, impoverished city with a military administration and an oppressive climate.”
Nigeria is annually rated the most corrupt country on earth. (Although, again to be fair, this year it’s only third, edged out by Bangladesh and Haiti.) The main airport in Lagos was, until quite recently, considered so unsafe that the FAA banned flights to it. (“Travelers arriving in Lagos were harassed both inside and outside of the airport terminal by criminals. Airport staff contributed to its reputation. Immigration officers required bribes before stamping passports, while customs agents demanded payment for nonexistent fees. In addition, several jet airplanes were attacked by criminals who stopped planes taxiing to and from the terminal and robbed their cargo holds.” Luckily, security apparently improved when “police instituted a shoot on sight policy for anyone found in the secure areas around runways and taxiways.”)
Gotta love this woman’s experience at Murtala Muhammed: “Nothing compares in filth, insecurity, and lack of facilities to the Muhammed Murtala airport in Lagos, Nigeria which is one of the worst places I’ve ever spent a night and/or day…During our stay, we barely avoided a fistfight, witnessed two robberies at knifepoint (perpetrated by rather small boys against foreign tourists), were threatened several times (Thank God my husband is a big guy who grew up in Africa or we, also, would have been robbed), got violently ill (details omitted) on the ‘bottled’ water, and took turns dozing fitfully for fear we would be attacked by the starving rats we saw fighting for scraps of trash. The place has NO security whatsoever (the guys with machine guns outside apparently couldn’t care less what’s going on inside and it’s the only airport I know of where they don’t scan carry-ons or make you walk through a metal detector), no chairs of any kind in the lobby (we were not allowed to go to the gate until the plane was ‘fixed’), a filthy, sticky floor and no bathrooms (well, actually, there was a room but it was locked because there was no water and according to the staff there, they had to lock it because the toilets were overflowing with human waste and people were just doing it on the floor). There was a ‘restaurant’ but it was out of food and the bar sold us contaminated water. (There were also some wandering vendors selling probably-contaminated food.)”
Or listen to what the country’s leading writers have to say. Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka: “Only a masochist with an exuberant taste for self-violence will pick Nigeria for a holiday.” Or Chinua Achebe: “Nigeria is not a great country. It is one of the most disorderly nations in the world. It is one of the most corrupt, insensitive, inefficient places under the sun. It is dirty, callous, noisy, ostentatious, dishonest, and vulgar. In short it is among the most unpleasant places on earth.”
In other words: Fun!
I expect this will be quite different from my previous Africa experience, in friendly open Zambia.
Re: communications, I should be in at least intermittant email contact, hopefully. And I’ve finally gotten on board the Skype bandwagon, meaning you can call me (at Skype ID crabwalkjb or at the regular ol’ phone number 214-556-2616) and we can chat from deepest Africa. Wish me luck!